Grafting in so many ways (well two)

There are lots of different ways to graft fruiting trees; the type we learnt at Coed Marros was “whip and tongue”. We had to graft for our grafting lesson; there were tree nursery beds to be filled with five year old composted manure.

If you are not familiar with the term “grafting”, it’s a way of joining material from two trees together to get the preferred properties of each tree in the final specimen. Most usually, a favourite fruit is grafted onto the roots of a tree that has the size property you desire, so rather than a huge tree taking up all the space in your garden, a tree grows to dimensions that are more suitable to the space available. Root stock has very dull names like M1, M25, M26, while the fruiting part, the scion, has names that you would recognise from the greengrocer like Braeburn, Cox and Granny Smith. The root stock may also have the disease resistant qualities you need or be hardy for your climate.

By 10:30 about a dozen of us were gathered with spades, forks and an assortment of knives! We’d been told to bring “grafting knives” but from the mix of penknives that were produced, it was evident that very few of us had investigated exactly what a grafting knife is. It’s a knife with a bevel on only one side of the blade. My rather lovely penknife is curved on both sides, so it went back into my pocket.

Whip and tongue graft

Compare my first attempt (top), to the seamless way it should be done

Strategically we were given the trimmings of some root stock to learn on. Wise indeed as it turned out. I’ll create a detailed page about grafting at a later date. Suffice to say, can you guess which is my effort? Yes, of course, the one on the bottom! (I wish). Well it was my first ever attempt.

Chris Evans tree grafting

Thanks Chris for the great training session

Rather than use grafting tape to hold the pieces until they grow together, Chris uses supermarket plastic bags cut into strips. He reckons he can get enough pieces for about 16 grafts with one bag (not bad for 5p – by law the minimum price of a plastic bag in Wales). Thankfully the plastic disguises a multitude of sins and it looked pretty good in the end, although I doubt it would take if it were done for real. More practice needed before I’m let loose on the real thing! Alternatively there are grafting pliers on the market that do the job in one easy snip. I’ll see how I get on.

In return for the grafting lesson we volunteers filled the four new nursery beds. The team at Coed Marros are expanding their tree nursery so that they can increase the biodiversity of the forest when they replace the trees they take out of the plantation and perhaps even have a few spare to sell.

Raised nurse beds for trees

All done!

They prefer to have all of their developing fruit trees growing in one place, so they can easily protect them from rabbits etc. before they plant them into their final position. Raised beds are the answer. The manure that has been composting for five years was a little further into the woods, not a problem when you have a trailer and many hands to help.

By the end of the day all the raised beds had been filled, all the volunteers trained and the dates for the sessions to graft the trees for real confirmed. Although I am assured there isn’t a practical test that we have to pass before we are let loose on the root stock, I’d best get some grafting hours in the meantime nonetheless.